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Pew Poll Finds Clean Energy Is A Political Wedge Issue for Republicans

Energy has turned into a contentious campaign issue in 2012, pitting “drill-baby-drill” against “clean energy now.” But multiple polls now make clear that the clean energy issue is a winning one for progressives.

The way the media and cable TV frame the national debate may make it seem like there’s an even split between supporters of fossil fuels and supporters of renewable alternatives. However, a new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that clean energy has far more support than fossil fuels support across the political spectrum — except among conservative Republican males.

The poll illustrates how clean energy has become a wedge issue among Republicans moving into the presidential election. This is precisely what has happened on climate (see “Independents, Other Republicans Split With Tea-Party Extremists on Global Warming“).

Pew found that 52% of Americans believe “alternative” resources are the most important energy priority for the country. That’s still a substantial increase over oil, coal and gas, which received preferential support from 39% of respondents.

This poll shows that clean energy still has very strong bipartisan support. But that support has shifted in the last year, with an increase in Americans saying domestic production of fossil fuels should be a top priority. With previous polls showing support for offshore drilling increasing as gas prices climb, that shift isn’t much of a surprise. (It should be noted that multiple analyses, including one from the Associated Press, have shown no correlation between lower gas prices and more drilling.)

The poll showed a shift in favor of domestic fossil fuel production among a variety of voters. But the most striking change was among older, conservative Republican males:

Over the past year, there has been an increase in the percentage of Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, who view the expansion of exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas as a more important priority for addressing the nation’s energy supply than the development of alternative energy sources.

Conservative Republicans now prioritize traditional energy sources over alternative sources by a 65% to 26% margin; a year ago they were divided (47% oil, coal, natural gas vs. 43% alternative energy).

In the current survey, men 50 and older say it is more important to expand exploration from traditional energy sources, by 51% to 37%. A year ago, older men prioritized the development of alternative energy sources by a comparable margin (54% to 35%).

Here’s the chart:

While there’s clearly a partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats over fossil fuel production, this poll shows that it’s really the Tea Party crowd that is the primary factor widening that gap. Support for fossil fuels hasn’t grown nearly as much among moderate Republicans and Independents.

These findings back up what we already know: The only voters who may get turned off by clean energy — conservative Republican males — would likely never support a progressive candidate anyway. So talking about clean energy and pushing federal clean energy policies, which still has solid support among the rest of the electorate, can only be a political positive, making it a classic wedge issue.

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